Dr. Shannon Walsh and Dr. William Brown Awarded Public Humanities Research Cluster Funding

Photo by Hover Collective / UBC Brand & Marketing

The Department of Theatre and Film would like to congratulate faculty members Shannon Walsh and William Brown, who have been named recipients of UBC Public Humanities Research Cluster funding.

This Research Cluster Grant provides funding to five research clusters to promote research activity and collaboration among humanities scholars; help collaborators secure additional support; and foster a more public-facing approach to sharing research.

Documentary, Visual Methods and Social Justice

PI: Shannon Walsh, Associate Professor, Film Production

The Documentary, Visual Methods and Social Justice cluster brings together a range of scholars, artists and students working on documentary, visual and arts-based methodologies for social change. Our aim is to deepen these ties across the university and beyond by establishing a website and online presence, an internal colloquium and retreat, a Documentary Centre and a public-facing screening and speaker series.

What drew you to this research topic?

This Humanities Hub cluster, which we’re calling DocUBC, combines the central areas of my research and practice: documentary filmmaking, interdisciplinary visual research methods and social justice. While I teach documentary production here at UBC and continue to make feature documentaries myself, I often don’t get a chance to teach and discuss visual methodologies as much as I’d like.

I found we lacked a connected space where graduate students, as well as the many talented practitioners and scholars across the university, can come together and build vital communities of practice and knowledge sharing. Graduate students are doing amazing work in these areas, but often don’t get to meet each other or other professors in different departments or faculties who are doing similar work.

What are you hoping to achieve with this project?

We have such an embarrassment of riches at UBC in terms of the expertise around us, and DocUBC aims to be a force to amplify this work more and connect people so they can appreciate, collaborate and learn from one another. We often don’t have the time to just meet, listen and share—things I consider instrumental to learning, growing and deepening interdisciplinary collaborations—and I hope this cluster will help us cultivate and nurture that social and creative connectedness. 

We need a vibrant node for documentary thinking and practice at a Canadian university, which is strangely lacking given that documentary is often considered Canada’s national art form. As we consider what truly revived ethics, decolonized approaches to non-fiction research and creation, and community-based engagement might look like, I hope DocUBC can both house and instigate these exciting new conversations and voices.

“I hope that this cluster will be a seed to grow into something bigger within the space of non-fiction filmmaking at UBC and in Canada more broadly.”
Associate Professor, Film Production

Shannon Walsh is a writer, director and producer. She has made five award-winning feature documentaries examining social and political issues, including her most recent 2021 film The Gig is Up. As a theorist, she has published in a range of research areas, largely focused on South Africa, where she lived and worked, visual methods and activist research. She recently completed the manuscript for a 20-year longitudinal arts-based ethnography of young activists from South Africa, which began as a social change project around HIV prevention in the early 2000s. She is also currently working on a textbook on documentary filmmaking for Routledge titled The Documentary Director’s Intuition: Creating Impactful & Ethical Non-fiction Films.

Cinema Thinks the World

PI: William Brown, Assistant Professor, Film Studies and Cinema and Media Studies

Cinema Thinks the World brings together scholars working on and with film to discuss their work with each other, with interested parties within the university, and with members of the general public. It also aims to develop a partnership with The Cinematheque in order to promote a scholarly film culture through an ongoing series of screenings and regular “think and drinks” with UBC faculty.

What drew you to this research topic?

I have always been interested in trying to account for, or to find ways to think about, the huge diversity of films from across the globe. This task is insurmountable, in that no one can see, or even have access to, all the films that are out there. However, it is a task that one might address theoretically, while also working towards pragmatically and collectively. Cinema Thinks The World invites scholars to come together and engage with the plurality of films, as well as the plurality of ways to think about film(s), to begin to see if a more “holistic” set of terms or a more “global” approach can be found. On a more abstract level, as it is impossible for us to see all films, so is it impossible for us to see all of the world. How we do think about the world, then, is often mediated via photographic and/or cinematographic technologies. That is, cinema is trying to think the world. I hope the cluster can tap into this attempt, too.

What are you hoping to achieve with this project?

Upon arrival at UBC in January 2022, I was immediately struck by the wealth of scholars working across numerous disciplines and yet conducting fabulous research both into and with film and audiovisual media more generally. UBC is a big place, and I don’t think I have met half of the scholars who are doing such work. The research cluster is an attempt to bring together these wonderful minds and forge connections between the various disciplines and approaches that collectively we know, and to see if mutually we can enrich our thoughts and ways of thinking.

Of huge significance to me is giving this process a public dimension—to have a “general audience” (that is, whoever wishes to take part!) contribute to proceedings. In this sense, it is very exciting that the Cinematheque has partnered with us on a series of screenings and discussions, in addition to a linked series of screenings, talks and dialogues at UBC. The partnership aims to enrich Vancouver’s already plentiful film culture, bringing a “global” (read: non-western and/or decolonial) set of perspectives to the discussions that are already underway.

“I hope that Cinema Thinks the World can grow into a long-lasting forum for a multidisciplinary exchange of knowledge across institutions, welcoming all who wish to attend!”
Assistant Professor, Film Studies and Cinema and Media Studies

William Brown is a scholar and filmmaker, with work spanning fiction, documentary, the video-essay and hybrids of all three. His current research focuses primarily on film-philosophy, digital media, posthumanism and critical race theory. His latest monograph, Navigating from the White Anthropocene to the Black Chthulucene is forthcoming with Zer0 Books. William has made some 15 no-budget feature films, including En Attendant Godard, which was named one of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Top Five Films of 2009. His video-essays and essay-films have been published in [in]Transition, Screenworks and Annals of Cross Cuts.

Congratulations again to our very own Shannon Walsh and William Brown on this remarkable achievement!

To learn more about these research clusters and to stay updated on future events from DocUBC and Cinema Thinks the World, visit the links below.